[up] [home]

Midwife to the Dream

 

By Montague Ullman, M.D.

 

Dream Appreciation Newsletter Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 1998

 

Socrates had it right! Listen to what he said about midwifery. After informing Theaetetus that he (Socrates) is the son of a midwife and informing him of the importance and function of the midwife, he has this to say about his own role as a midwife:

 

Socrates: Well, my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs in that I attend men and not women, and I look after their souls when they are in labor, and not after their bodies; and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the mind of the young man is bringing to the birth is a false idol or a noble and true birth. And like the midwives, I am barren, and the reproach which is often made against me, that I ask questions of others and have not the wit to answer them myself is very just! The reason is, that the god compels me to be a midwife, but forbids me to bring forth. And therefore I am not myself at all wise, nor have I anything to show which is the invention or birth of my own soul, but those who converse with me profit. Some of them appear dull enough at first, but afterwards, as our acquaintance ripens, if the god is gracious to them, they all make astonishing progress; and this is the opinion of others as well as their own. It is quite clear they have never learned anything from me; and the many fine discoveries to which they cling are of their own making. But to me and the god they owe their delivery.

 

Socrates went about Athens putting questions to people that helped them think through issues that either in their complexity or nature were not easy to think about. Now, if you were an itinerant dream helper, how much of what he has to say above would be applicable to your effort to bring the dreamer in touch with the dream? Let's develop the analogy.

 

"I look after their souls when they are in labor."

 

Neither babies nor dreams see the light of day without some labor involved. When dream work exposes the deep, honest core of ourselves, aren'twetalking about our souls?

 

"...the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the young man is bringing to the birth is a false idol or a noble and true birth."

 

Aren't we, as helpers, concerned with a true resonance between the dreamer and his dream, and don't we do our best to avoid the birthing ofany spurious intellectualizing?

 

"And like the midwives I am barren, and the reproach which is often made against me, that l ask questions of others and have not the wit to answer them myself, is very just."

 

As helpers we are barren. We are helping to bring forth a baby that is not our own. We put questions to the dreamer that we ourselves don't have the answer to.

 

"And therefore I am not myself at all wise."

 

The biggest mistake dream helpers can make is to think they know more about someone else's dream than the dreamer does.

 

"But those who converse with me profit."

 

When a natural process comes to completion with help but not interference, there is always something to be gained.

 

"Some of them appear dull enough at first,but afterwards, as our acquaintance ripens ...they all make astonishing progress."

 

It does take time to catch on to dream work. Trust has to be developed. Skills have to be learned. We are not taught from childhood the metaphorical language of the dream and how the imagery we create at night offers a level of honesty about ourselves that often eludes us awake. There are those who are really at a loss when it come to dreams. They seem to be suffering from what my friend and colleague Jon Tolaas calls "metaphor blindness." They seem to be trapped in a linear, literal way of relating to their dreams. In most instances, however,those with a serious interest in their dreams do make "astonishing progress."

 

"It is quite clear that they had never learned anything from me; the many fine discoveries to which they cling are of their own making."

 

This says it all about dream work. We are all, group and leader together, using the Socratic Method. This is not the usual way of learning. It is not a way of imparting knowledge but a way of learning from the dreamer. If the helpers are successful, all they have done is help dreamers get to know something about themselves they knew all the time but didn't know they knew.

 

"But to me and the god they owe their delivery."

 

In the dream group everyone involved is a midwife, bringing to life the natural healing power of the dream. I don't know if God is in the room when that happens, but a very rare sense of communion comes into being as the soul of the dreamer makes its presence felt.

 

Of course,analogies are only analogies. Socrates attends men and not women. Times have changed. I "attend" women with an occasional venturesome male taking the plunge. The analogy fails in another way. When a mother is faced with a difficult or complicated delivery there is a need for more than what a midwife can do: It calls for the skills of an obstetrician and, if necessary, the availability of an operating room.The same is true with regard to dream work. More specialized help may be needed in some instances.

 

The dream group is not everyone's cup of tea. There are times when a dreamer needs more help than a dream group can provide. Like the midwife, the dream workers have to know their own limitations and when professional help is needed. While dream group work is usually complementary to therapy, that judgment has to be made on an individual basis.

 

One last reminder. Once the cord is cut it is the mother's responsibility to take over the subsequent raising of the child. Just as the midwife doesn't superimpose her own child-rearing practices on the mother, dream helpers don't go beyond the safe delivery of the dream to interject their own ideas of where the dreamer should now go with the dream. It is the task of the dreamer to further integrate the reality conveyed by the dream into the reality of waking life.